Annette Gordon-Reed is a professor of law at New York Law School and a professor of history at Rutgers. She earned a place in history with her first book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, which had an acclaimed but stormy reception when published in 1997, and which The New Yorker described as “brilliant.” She is recognized as one of our country’s most distinguished presidential scholars.Gordon-Reed spent her early career as an associate at Cahill Gordon & Reindel, and as Counsel to the New York City Board of Corrections. She speaks or moderates at numerous conferences across the country on history and law-related topics. Gordon-Reed is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School, where she was a member of the Law Review. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and son.
Gordon-Reed: Okay, so now we can stop talking about this race thing, we got a black president, it’s over, but, gosh, you can’t have a black… you can’t let him miss this opportunity and you can’t let black people miss this opportunity out of that fear, you know. I mean and I can remember, you know, sort of thinking in the beginning or actually reading in the beginning and lots of people didn’t want him to run because they thought he might be killed, and so let’s not vote for him because if he does really well, but you can’t be ruled by fear like that. You have to take what comes, you can, it’s a good thing. It would be good thing if he gets to be president. And there might be this downside, there might be people who say that, you know, racism is over but you have to fight against that. You can’t, you know, miss an opportunity for one individual to become a figure of history like that and for all of us to participate in that out of your fears, which is that something we’ll deal with when we cross that bridge, when we come to it. But don’t say he shouldn’t win because of out of your fear of what will come next. I mean, we have some capacity to control or to work on what comes next. Just go step at a time, I think it’s the best way to do this, but I understand the sentiment because it’s definitely going to be there.
Question: What work remains to be done in race relations?
Gordon-Reed: It’s chiseling away those subconscious notions about race education, sort of closing the education gap between black and white students. You know, certainly, the financial stuff that’s going to affect everybody but that really would be the big, the next challenge is to try to have a racial politics that will spur people to sort of to understand that this is not… it’s not all over if we have a black president or even we don’t get a black president. That’s something else to think about what happens if he loses, but, really, chipping away an unconscious racism and also poverty, structural poverty that disproportionately affects black people. Black people aren’t the only poor people in the country, but there needs to be some way of linking, I think, I mean for blacks to make common cause with people who are… we’ve always wanted to do that. I was mainly lower class white who have not wanted that, but really try to address economic issues in this country so that blacks can be raised as other people raised as well.